“Great games don’t have to be big”
Once in a while there are some games that add unexpected layers to their stories.
Although the subjects in The Lion’s Song: Derivation were interesting and important ones, I was ultimately distracted and touched by a demonstration of respect and a diversity of experiences that I, even if I have to repeat myself, was truly unexpected, but that I welcomed with very open arms.
In Derivation, we follow the Story of Emma, a mathematician, who, although when the story begins experiences a tragedy of her own, right away sets to enter a famous and respected club of fellow mathematician and like-minded thinkers. Due to being a woman, Emma is laughed at, her role and place as a woman are reminded to her and her capacity to think critically are doubted, if not denied altogether. Of course, following in the footsteps of interesting characters that The Lion’s Song’s studio Mi’pu’mi Games has given us thus far, Emma does not stop there. She decides to dress as a man and finish the equation the men have so far been unable to complete, to prove herself not only as a Mathematician but a Mathematician who also happens to be a woman.
But Emma’s struggle and inner turmoil do not solely revolve around her many attempts to enter the club, or to prove herself to who she sees as who should be her peers. She also struggles with her personal loss, her grief, and confusing feelings she experiences in regards to who she is, feelings triggered by her disguising herself as a man day after day, going by the name of Emil, a name that, depending on the game you play, she feels fits her just as well as Emma or maybe even more.
The identity of Emma as Non-binary isn’t simply hinted at, it is a core subject of the story, it is something always on the main of the main character and appears in many of the conversations that Emma has with people, something she either cannot hide or doesn’t feel like she has to hide. For the sake of truly respecting the character and ultimately non-binary folks in general, I will refer to Emma with They/Them for the rest of this review considering that, in my playthrough at least, Emma is as much Emma as they are Emil, neither male or female, or perhaps both, maybe simply sitting in the middle, or entirely out off the box.
I have asked the followers of A Woman on the internet, specifically non-binary/genderfluid/agender folks, how they would define or describe those “identities” (I put this in quotes since a lot of people don’t see it only as an identity but simply who they are). The general responses revolve around comfort and simply not sitting in either box marked “woman” or “man” but also not necessarily in the middle, some connect to femininity more on one day and the next day will feel some other way, some reject the notion of man or woman and simply exist as the human being that they are, however, the general person might want to define them.
In many instances though, such as the one that I saw while playing The Lion’s Song: Derivation, was that some people might connect more to one thing more than the other, such as Emma eventually ending the game as Emil, remaining dressed in a suit, and even though they have expressed comfort as either, Emma chooses to experience life as Emil, as this was the most comfortable way for them to be, the most genuine Emma/Emil. They are many things that I could say about Derivation. I could talk about the casual sexism that Emma experiences when not going about as Emil, but to be quite frank that is not the story that Derivation has left me to be haunted with.
That is not what I keep thinking about, what truly made me feel, what I’ve learned. There are already stories of women who experience casual racism and the struggles of cis white women in the 20th century, these are not stories entirely new. But Emma’s realization of their own identity as Emil, whether triggered by their loss or by having to dress “as a man” to have their intelligence recognized ultimately I am not sure this matters, Emma is Emil and Emil is Emma and maybe Emil is the truest self, maybe there are no selves truer than the other. What The Lion’s song had given us in this story is something I personally never experienced through another game, not in such a forward way.
So when I finished the game and an achievement popped up called “non-binary” with the description being: “Prove that there are many possible states and everything is in flux”
I smiled, and right here and there, studio Mi’pu’mi Games reminded me why I love video games. 10/10In this third episode of The Lion’s Song, we thought we were given a story of 20th-century sexism and the beauty and art and mathematics, but instead, we experienced a beautiful story of a non-binary person finding themselves and ultimately, finding peace.
Available on: PC